ShopTalk: Practical answers for tough business questions

by : 
Kim Perkins
October 1, 2012

Question: Do you have problems with customers shoplifting small items? I just did an inventory of our rings (kept at the counter) and essential oils (a short distance away near bath salts and lotions), and I am really concerned about the number that are missing. Am I supposed to just accept this as a cost of doing business? Do you have any suggestions?

Answer: I wish I could say we never experience missing items at my store, but that would be far from the truth. Some shrinkage—which, by definition, includes items that are stolen, missing, or damaged, as well as errors in receiving by both staff and vendors—is a cost of doing business, but it should be a minor amount. It sounds like you’ve targeted two problem areas, and my advice is to start by making changes in those areas. After you handle those, continue taking inventories to expose other areas where merchandise is missing.

Are your rings just sitting out on the counter? Do you have a secure display? The approach here can be twofold. First, make a policy that when customers are looking at rings, a salesperson is with them at all times, and then enroll your salespeople in the new plan. You might also consider a glass-top ring display case for around $25. It is a few extra dollars on the front end, but as you can already see, provides cost savings to cover the added expense.

In the case of your essential oils, I wish I had an easy answer. We have had problems with people taking our oils and now have a system where we place the empty box on the shelf with a sign saying the oils are kept behind the sales counter. Even so, customers have been known to take the tester, which is glued down!

There are pros and cons to this method of housing oils behind the counter. The cons are that we are restricted to carrying only essential oils packaged in boxes, and that takes up extra room in an already tight space. Thankfully, our best-selling oils do come packaged in boxes. On the pro side, we lose very few oils. We also mark each bottle with the date it arrived and sell the oldest first, so customers are assured the oils are always fresh.

Kim Perkins is co-owner of Elysian Fields Books & Gifts for Conscious Living (, an award-winning store in Sarasota, Fla. Send your retail questions to